05:43

Biopics

We went to see the film biopic of Steve Jobs recently. It had rave reviews - and the acting is outstanding by both Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet - but is it a good film? I don't think so.

The script by Sorkin is deeply flawed. It focuses on three product launches all shot in different film formats - which does give it an interesting and period patina. However there is an intrinsic tedium in the concept of seeing an egotistical genius occasionally showing some decency and humanity three times over. All the cleverness of Sorkin's verbal gymnastics can't compensate for this structural flaw. 

Having read Isackson's biography of Jobs I also don't think Sorkin does justice to quite what an arsehole Jobs was. He comes across as just difficult rather than the deeply unpleasant and crude bully that he was in real life. The real Jobs left behind a trail of personal destruction as large as his professional achievements.

But this is specific to this particular film. There is a wider point about biopics - do they ever work? The classic format is linear and usually goes along the lines of difficult childhood, success at an early age, battle with drink and/or  drugs, redemption of some sort and either happy or sad ending. I've never seen a good one of these - ever. Workmanlike and interesting in patches, maybe. The fault probably lies in the restrictions imposed by the format of a film; it simply can't do the justice to a big life that a book is able to do. Ageing is intrinsically difficult. Where this can work is if the historical background is bigger than the individual - where the subject is an Everyman swept along by events: The Last Emperor comes to mind

The very few biopics that have worked for me are those that have focused on a moment in a life where you are made to feel that you have been in the room with the subject - seen him or her as an intimate. The standout must be Daniel Day Lewis's Lincoln - or the depiction of Hitler in Downfall. The dramatic action is contained in time and you get to view the subject as someone standing next door to them - as you might do in real life. 

I won't be going to see any more biopics that don't do this.

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